(ORDO NEWS) — As temperatures continue to rise around the world, it is becoming clear that we will have to rely on something other than dancing with a tambourine to bring rain to combat drought. This is where “cloud seeding” comes in, a type of weather modification that usually aims to increase the amount of rain or snow.
According to an article published in March 2021 in The Guardian:
“Cloud seeding involves the use of aircraft or drones to add small particles of silver iodide, which are similar in structure to ice, to the clouds. Water droplets accumulate around the particles, changing the structure of the clouds and increasing the chance of precipitation.”
You might think this is a new initiative, but the first successful cloud seeding happened almost a century ago, in 1923. This experiment was carried out at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, W.D. Bancroft, professor at Cornell University.
But, despite the fact that the delivery method is based on old principles, it continues to evolve.
Earlier in 2021, the United Arab Emirates began testing unmanned aerial vehicles designed to shock clouds with electric shocks, causing them to make rain. It is just one of nine different rain enhancement projects funded by the government totaling US$15 million and led by scientists from the University of Reading.
The BBC reported:
“The project aims to change the balance of electrical charge on cloud droplets,” explained Professor Maarten Ambaum, who worked on the project.
The water table in the UAE is dropping sharply and the aim of the project is to help rainfall,” he told the BBC.
There are, however, “a lot of clouds” in the country, so the plan is to convince the water droplets in them to coalesce and stick to each other, “like dry hair to a comb” when encountering static electricity, he said.
When the drops merge and become large enough, they will fall as rain.”
The article continues:
Alya al-Mazroui, director of the UAE’s Rain Enhancement Research Program, told Arab News: “Equipped with a payload of electrical charge emitters and special sensors, these drones will fly at low altitude and transfer an electrical charge to air molecules, which should contribute to precipitation.”
This is an interesting project that, if successful, could change the course of events.
Temperatures of up to 51.8°C were recorded in the UAE in June. Combined with a measly 4 inches of average annual rainfall in Dubai, it’s clear why something needs to be done. But cloud seeding is not without its challenges…
Ariel Cohen’s article for Forbes addresses some of these issues:
“Given that the by-products of these weather change missions will literally rain down on people’s heads, crops and drinking water, there is significant concern about the safety of cloud seeding. Some fear that the accumulated particles could linger and eventually prove carcinogenic to people or harmful to the local environment.”
The article goes on to cite the fears of some experts that this process could trigger flooding. What about private ownership of weather drones? Could inclement weather be the result of an attempt to force a snowy day? However, the greatest concern is the possibility of using weapons:
“Water security is a priority for every country. Without water, there is no life, no agriculture, no country. Wars have been and are being fought for access to water…
“If cloud seeding becomes more popular, it’s easy to imagine authoritarian authorities using weather modification as a weapon against domestic and foreign opposition, or blaming neighbors for seeding as a source of domestic weather disasters.”
“A hot or thirsty country that provokes rainfall to the detriment of its neighbors is likely to take what does not belong to them. Jurisdiction over the “resources” of the rain that has not yet fallen will be difficult, since no applicable international law directly regulates this issue. The geopolitical consequences will become even more worrisome as calls for restitution are likely to mount.If controlling the weather is a luxury of the rich and powerful, then access to water could be a tool of pressure or a detonator of conflict.”
Turning the weather into a weapon:
Perhaps the plot of Gerard Butler’s 2017 film Geostorm, in which a system of climate-controlled satellites is stolen by a power-hungry government official, is not as absurd as it first appears.
But for any of these problems to occur, there needs to be a working system in the first place: the real-world heavy rain event in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, as confirmed by the National Center for Meteorology (NCM), suggests that it’s not far off.
However, initiatives in other parts of the world have been unsuccessful.
In March 2021, Scientific American published an article detailing how eight U.S. states are seeding clouds to overcome the so-called “megadrought”, while raising important questions about the effectiveness of such intervention:
“In order to prove that cloud seeding has a real effect, scientists must demonstrate that whatever result it produces would not have happened without it. To do this, an experiment consisting of at least two trials is required – one with cloud seeding, the other without him – in the same place and under the same weather conditions.
“Because the weather changes so quickly, it is very difficult to do so. And even when possible, such studies require advanced monitoring technologies, including high-tech radars. Until recently, such technologies were not widely available.”
“This means that cloud seeding studies have mostly relied on statistical studies. These studies measure the amount of precipitation that has fallen during cloud seeding at one location and then compare it to another location where cloud seeding has not taken place.
“In studies like this, the two sites are not identical. This means that they cannot definitively prove that precipitation caused by cloud seeding in one area would not have fallen without it.”
The article also touches on the SNOWIE project – short for Seeded and Natural Orographic Clouds in Winter – which has provided some of the first quantitative evidence that cloud seeding actually works. Good news? They excel at generating snow. Not very good news? There was not much of it, and certainly not enough to overcome the drought.
One quote from an article attributed to Sarah Tessendorf, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who also worked on the SNOWIE project, struck me as odd:
“The question is no longer whether cloud seeding works? The questions are really: How and when does it work? How effective is it in different conditions?
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